Eluveitie, Arkona and Skálmöld
Mandela Hall Belfast
November 14th 2014
Review by Melanie Brehaut
Photography by Jamie Hunter https://www.facebook.com/Jrhunterphotography
Deep in the autumnal gloom (read: rain) in the heart of Belfast, the last thing one would expect was a gig featuring not one, but THREE languages other than English. Right? Well, that was exactly what punters got when they ventured out on a rather meh Friday night in November.
First off the bat were Icelandic metallers Skálmöld. With their new album ‘Með Vættum’ released this very day, the band were in pugnacious form, rattling through their set of muscular Amon Amarth-esque Viking metal with barely a pause for breath. The rapidly filling room responded with roars of approval, as well as an (hilarious) impromptu performance of ‘happy birthday dear drummer’ on being informed of sticksman Jón Geir Jóhannsson’s big day – much to the band’s amusement.
Fist-pumping anthems such as Gleipnir, Med Fuglum and Kvaðning were fired out, giving their set a sort of ‘Viking movie soundtrack’ feel – if said soundtrack were heavily on steroids, that is. No airy-fairy pagan wispiness here tonight, no sir!
Vocalist Björgvin Sigurösson’s gruff, guttural tones were rather reminiscent of Rammstein’s Til Lindemann, with keyboardist Gunnar Ben adding a classy touch with his surprisingly melodic voice.
It’s clear from the roar of the crowd that greets Sigurösson’s grateful “it’s our first time in Belfast, so thank you for showing up” that this will undoubtedly be the first of many visits to this corner of the globe for Skálmöld.
Continuing the evening’s international theme, second support act Arkona featured Mongolian throat singing as their intro music and then strode onstage clad in traditional Russian garb – most startlingly, frontwoman Masha ‘Scream’ was draped in what appeared to be an entire husky skin.
Describing themselves as ‘Slavic pagan metal’ proves to be slightly misleading as they launched into a pummelling and surprisingly brutal beat – and proceeded to simply blow the crowd away.
Vocalist Masha was frankly mesmerising, switching from heartfelt clean vocals to a deep fearsome growl effortlessly. She resembled a fur-clad Axl Rose, all frantic energy and Joplin-esque intensity. The band themselves put in a spellbinding performance. Watching them is a completely immersive experience: they were raw and powerful, as well as being clearly talented musicians. And hey – it’s not every day that you see a mountainous, headbanging bagpiper! They must stand out like aliens in their native Russia…
The crowd responded with instinctive awe and joy, falling silent during brief a cappella moments from Masha (goosebumpy), clapping gleefully during snippets of traditional Russian music, and dutifully fulfilling Masha’s demand for a wall of death towards the end.
Their stunning hour-long set featured songs both old and new (particularly tracks from recent release ‘Reality’), with their bruising metal might accentuated by traditional Russian wind instruments. Set highlights were Serbia, Zakliate and a breathtaking Slav’sja, Rus’! In a word: extraordinary.
Such a stonking set prompted the obvious question: can Eluveitie top that? There wasn’t long to wait to find out: with a swirl of stormy sound effects overlaid with poetry, the Swiss natives trooped onstage with their various instruments and kicked off their set with confidence and aplomb.
With its bold lighting, special effects and the sheer number of members, it quickly becomes clear that this wasn’t merely a gig – this was a show, a spectacle.
The aforementioned instruments? How about a hurdygurdy, fiddle, tin whistle, mandolin and bagpipes, for starters? This assortment, when combined with the more traditional metal instruments (guitar, bass etc) brought Eluveitie’s sound excitingly to life tonight.
Singer Chrigel Glanzmann hit his stride immediately, giving a terrific ‘proper metal’ performance, with hurdygurdy player and co-vocalist Anna Murphy providing the vocal beauty to his brawn. Musically the band were quite clearly as tight as the proverbial drum, polished yet enthusiastic. It’s very obvious that they are a talented bunch individually – together, they are a force of nature. There were moments of almost ethereal elegance mixed in amongst the heaviness – a fact which could account for the almost fifty fifty split of males to females in the crowd.
Glanzmann interacted well with the crowd throughout. He delighted in telling them that “it’s so good to finally be back in Belfast!”, which elicited roars of approval. He described Eluveitie as simply a band that “sing songs about the ancient Celts” in ancient languages – in fact, when introducing new track The Call of the Mountains, Murphy gave five different languages to choose from as they have sung it in all of them!
Unsurprisingly, their set heavily featured songs from latest album ‘Origins’, including The Nameless, King, and the (literally) epic Vianna. These new numbers mixed well with older tracks such as the powerhouse of Dominion and a colossal Yarmuk which rounded out their set, to the air-punching elation of the crowd.
But wait! It aint over til it’s over! Reappearing onstage to a heroes welcome, they recruited Vladimir from Arkona to cover bagpiping duties (as their piper Päde Kistler had to leave the tour unexpectedly) and swung into a spirited version of fan favourite Helvetios, followed by the inevitable climax of Inis Mona, whose tribal beat and rare guitar solo resulted in pandemonium/en masse headbanging from the crowd. A brilliant ending to an exciting and dynamic set.
Tonight proved, if nothing else, that a metal gig doesn’t have to feature the local language to be thrilling and rousing. From Vikings to Russian pagans to Celts, tonight in Belfast punters witnessed a wealth of talent and legendary stories, as well as a plethora of traditional instruments in both the metal and classical sense. And hey. It’s not often that you see a beautiful hurdygurdy-playing brunette headbanging…
1/ Origins – Intro
2/ The Nameless
7/ Carry the Torch
8/ The Call of the Mountains
10/ Grey Sublime Archon
13/ The Silver Sister
2/ Inis Mona